From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Skibell's fat, cheeky, and sweeping latest begins in early 1895 Austria when his endearing protagonist, young Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, comes face-to-face with Sigmund Freud in a room full of mirrors that create an ironic "unending trail of Freuds." Eventually, the story follows Sammelsohn through the shadow of Freud, the arms of several lovers, and eventually to the Warsaw ghetto, providing a grand portrait of Eastern Europe, but it is the initial setup of Sammelsohn as a naiÌêve crucible for Freud's vicarious obsessions that makes Skibell (A Blessing on the Moon) more of a social satirist than a straightforward portraitist. In the figure of Sammelsohn, we see the timid makings of the modern psychoanalytic man: the young doctor is, at heart, a lonely romantic led into a bungle of overanalysis in a world "glittering with the usual accoutrements of late-century masquerade," sporting the foolish instrumentation of "monocles, lorgnettes, pince-nez, stickpins, watchfobs" and an "assortment of impractical hats." Skibell's delicious juxtaposition of Sammelsohn against the cocainesnorting Freud, and Sammelsohn's infatuation with the "cruel, vindictive, haughty, caustic, dismissive, even murderous" character of Emma Eckstein, one of Freud's patients, make for a magnetic collection of personalities.
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*Starred Review* Skibell’s sweeping, imaginative epic chronicles the tumultuous life of an endearing protagonist, Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, which includes a unique relationship with Sigmund Freud, the universal language movement, and WWII. In 1895 Vienna, Sammelsohn, an oculist, is love-struck by Emma Eckstein, one of Freud’s best-known patients. Sammelsohn’s pursuit of Eckstein becomes complicated when she is possessed by the spirit of Sammelsohn’s childhood bride, Ita, who committed suicide after being abandoned the day of their wedding. While Freud and Sammelsohn argue over the best treatment for Eckstein, Ita and Sammelsohn’s relationship deepens, culminating in a mystical scene. Later, Sammelsohn meets Dr. Ludovik Leyzer Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, and becomes immersed in the language and its ideals of worldwide peace. One of Esperanto’s outspoken proponents is the wealthy Loë Bernfeld, with whom Sammelsohn quickly falls in love. Though the two marry, Ita continues to pursue Sammelsohn, making an inopportune appearance at a crucial delegation meeting. Finally, Sammelsohn’s journey brings him to the terrors of 1940 Warsaw, where, with the help of a rebbe, he embarks on an otherworldly voyage. Skibell (The English Disease, 2003) crafts a vivid, artfully clever tale grounded in turn-of-the century Europe. --Leah Strauss